Kennedy Olwana’s father lost his life months before Kennedy was born. His mother sold tomatoes in the local market to cater for his and his sister’s needs. When he was eight years old, the mother too, passed on. He was taken in by his grandmother and went to a local school. Because his grandmother was taking care of other children, the responsibility of going to school solely lay on him.
To pay the Ksh1000 school fees every term, he would go into the forest to fetch logs, then sell them in the nearby Usenge beach to the fishermen to fry the fish with. The KCPE results came and he was the top student in the school with 332/500 marks. When he told his grandmother that he would be called to high school but had to pay Ksh20000 a year, she said it was impossible.
As the top student, he secured sponsorship to join high school. “I was afraid to expect too much from life because I didn’t want to be disappointed. I was just happy that God had gotten me to where I was. That, someone, was kind enough to pay my fees, people who didn’t know me.”
When the KCSE results came, he emerged the top boy in his school, scoring a B plain. His calling letter from Egerton University came, but he was too scared – scared because he was going to be hurt by his success, hurt because he was too poor to afford university.
How was he going to afford Ksh60,000 in university fees?
He tried knocking at every government door, hoping to get help – the local MCA, local MP, and even the church. With no help in sight, Kennedy decided to try to get admission. He travelled to Nakuru and found his way to Egerton University. He registered but skipped the payment section, and returned to the village.
Without any help from all the doors he had knocked on back in the village, he went back to fishing and collecting firewood, even as weeks passed and classes began.
In the weeks that followed, as a beneficiary of the KCDF (Kenya Community Development Foundation), he was required to attend an interview.
Throughout the interview, he had no confidence and looked like he was intimidated by the crew. After the interview, he narrated his story to the interviewer, and although he didn’t know it then, this was going to be his turning point.
A week later, Kennedy joined Egerton University study Bachelor of Animal Health Management – Veterinary Medical and Surgery.
To earn a little money for upkeep, he got employed as a steward, at Java in Nakuru.
“A steward at Java cleans dishes in the kitchen. While some might have found it difficult or beneath them, I was just thrilled to get a job in a restaurant. And don’t forget that my previous job was walking barefoot in the forest looking for firewood. Cleaning dishes was so easy.”
He cleaned dishes for a year before he was promoted to be a barista.
It’s at Java that his life took a turn. It’s also at Java that he first interacted with his first mzungu. (A big thing for him). And it’s in Java that he met people who held his hand even though they didn’t have to.
He is indebted to one of his managers, who was very understanding of his school schedule, guiding him and giving him advice beyond just work.
The biggest thing about working at Java is how interactions with customers has built his confidence. He loves it when a customer – a coffee lover – walks in and asks specifically for Ken to make his coffee. Someone knows his name. Someone chooses him. Suddenly he is somebody who can contribute.
Kennedy is a far cry from the boy he was four years ago. He walks with head high, he’s confident, he laughs easily, he makes eye-contact.
He is set to graduate in a few months after he goes for his attachment. When he is done with university, he intends to settle back in the village.
“I want to go back and help someone because I have been very lucky.”
It doesn’t take much to help someone cross the road. It is small acts of kindness from normal people that can change a life and destiny. All it takes is; a word, your time or mentorship.
There are many like Ken, waiting to cross the road, standing barefoot, with no chance in their hearts. Some will never cross, but others will – if you give them a hand.